HC Deb 20 July 1944 vol 402 cc332-5
33. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Minister of Health what action he proposes to take to avoid parties of evacuated women and children being stranded at their destination; whether, in particular, he has inquired into the case of the group of children about whom particulars have been sent to him; and whether he intends immediately to requisition all houses in reception areas and in any part of the country where the whole or part of such houses can be used for accommodating evacuees.

Mr. Willink

I have no evidence of parties of evacuated women and children being stranded at their destinations. It is often impossible, and generally undesirable, to billet a large party of evacuees on the day of their arrival, and it is a common practice to provide overnight accommodation in Rest Centres and other suitable buildings until billeting can be completed. I have made inquiries regarding the reception of the group of children about whom my hon. Friend wrote to me, and I am sending him all the information I have been able to obtain. Local authorities in the reception areas have power to requisition any unoccupied properties for the purpose of housing evacuees, and I am also taking steps to secure for this purpose a large number of houses and other properties which are being released by other Departments who no longer require them.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, in this particular case, on the evidence of two people who accompanied the children to their destination, there was no adequate preparation at all, and that they would have been stranded had it not been for the splendid offices of the Pioneer Corps and the A.T.S.?

Mr. Willink

The evidence, even of two witnesses, is not always completely accurate. I have given the facts, about which I understand there is a measure of difference, and I hope my hon. Friend will consider those facts.

Mr. Sorensen

Will the Minister accept a statement made by these two people if I send it to him to-day?

Mr. Willink

I will most certainly receive it and consider it, but I could not accept it as accurate if it was in conflict with other evidence I have received.

34. Sir T. Moore

asked the Minister of Health if he has any statement to make regarding the evacuation of women and children from London; and whether their reception in the safe areas has been satisfactory.

Mr. Willink

Since 2nd July, over 170,000 women and children have been evacuated from London in organised parties. Considering the large numbers involved and the speed of the operation, it has been effected with a smoothness that reflects credit on all concerned. Some difficulties have inevitably occurred, but the reception in the safer areas has on the whole been very satisfactory. I am glad to have this opportunity of paying tribute to the billeting authorities, and to the very large number of householders who have willingly agreed to receive evacuees. An operation of this size cannot, of course, be successfully accomplished without the good will and co-operation of all, including the evacuees themselves. I would especially urge upon those who have been evacuated to safer areas that they should remain there.

Mr. Bowles

On a point of Order. May I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker? Here we have information, which may or may not be of comfort to the enemy, that 170,000 people have been evacuated. Where are we in this matter? Are we to have a secret meeting upstairs and not——

Mr. Speaker

It is not a point of Order for me, but a matter for the discretion of the Minister concerned.

Sir T. Moore

In view of the publicity given in the Press to the few cases in which difficulties have arisen, would it be fair to say what the percentage is of those cases in which difficulties arose, in relation to the general numbers happily evacuated?

Mr. Willink

I have indicated that, in the great majority of cases, reception has been willing, and all that I could wish for.

Sir Herbert Williams

Since the figures have been disclosed for London, is there any objection to the figures being given for individual areas, in view of the fact that the Croydon Press last Saturday gave the full figures for Croydon?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

It is certainly very improper that details for all places should be given, because it gives the enemy advice as to how to direct their fire. The general figure of 170,000 evacuated from London would have no effect other than to disappoint the enemy, who would have expected more. A very great deal of this matter can be talked about. There are, however, particular points you do not want to talk about, and most people can see those points for themselves.

Earl Winterton

Arising out of that reply, can the right hon. Gentleman explain how it can possibly give any information to the enemy to say how many people have gone from a particular area, in view of the fact that there is no allotment of evacuees to areas, and that the whole of London and certain parts of the adjacent counties are evacuee areas?

The Prime Minister

If you took a particular borough and said there had been a very large figure of evacuees from that place, it would show that there had been some damage.

Mr. Shinwell

Cannot the enemy ascertain that a particular borough has been attacked by reading the death notices in "The Times" and other papers?

The Prime Minister

There are not so very many death notices in "The Times."

41. Mr. Edgar Granville

asked the Minister of Health if he is satisfied with the progress of the existing scheme for evacuating mothers and children and billeting them upon a voluntary basis; and whether further measures are contemplated in order to expedite the arrangements for allocating accommodation after the arrival at the reception areas.

Mr. Willink

The reply to the first part of this Question is "Yes, Sir." All billeting authorities have compulsory powers, if they find it necessary to use them. As regards the second part of the Question, if my hon. Friend has in mind the practice of keeping evacuees, on arrival in reception areas, in rest centres for one or two nights before they are billeted, this procedure has the advantage of enabling the billeting authority to assess the needs of the party and to billet upon a properly selective basis. There are objections to billeting the evacuees straight from the train after a long journey and towards the end of the day.

Mr. Granville

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that, where there have been difficulties, some of them have been because his Department sent the wrong figure to the local authorities in evacuation areas, and will he see to that?

Mr. Willink

If the hon. Member will bring any such case to my attention, of course I will look into it.

Earl Winterton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear whether it is or is not the fact that these people leave areas not necessarily because they have been bombed but because they think they are going to be bombed?